As one of the most highly successful series in television history, Frasier has found recognition worthy of its snooty protagonist. It's also one of the most highly successful spin-offs, following noted psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane as he leaves his home in Boston as a regular on the series Cheers to star in his own series as the host of a Seattle radio show. He reunites with his neurotically fussy younger brother Niles, his cranky ex-cop father Martin, and his father's eccentric British physical therapist in a non-stop calamitous farce.
Noted for its taut writing, its witty repartee, and its complex storylines packed into one half-hour time slot, it held the most Emmy nominations for a comedy or drama (a number only surpassed recently by Game of Thrones). As sophisticated and erudite as it was, it occasionally collapsed under the weight of its own ambitions and gave us some stinkers. Dim the lights, pour some sherry, and settle in for the 5 best and 5 worst episodes of Frasier.
The "dance" that occurred around Niles and Daphne expressing their feelings for one another was one of the highlights of the series. In "Moon Dance," after finalizing his divorce from Maris in the third season, Niles has decided it's time to start dating again. In anticipation of appearing at a prestigious country club ball, he enlists Daphne's help to instruct him in the art of that most passionate dance of all, the tango.
When his date to the function backs out on him, Niles begins to despair that stepping out into public will be a disaster, no matter how gifted Daphne's lessons. She volunteers to be his date, and they share one of the most electrifying moments of the series dancing the night away.
You would think an episode with a pre The New Girl Zooey Deschanel would have charm and comedic merit in spades, but it turns out even Zooey couldn't save this episode. She plays Roz's hipster cousin who comes to visit Seattle and naturally finds herself lurking around the KACL station.
Maybe the fault lies in her being an apathetic hipster, unimpressed with Frasier (and everything around her) the entire time. Maybe it comes down to the fact that there's a whole subplot about her helping Kenny the station manager through an existential crisis. Maybe there's just not enough Frasier and the leading cast, focusing instead on characters no one cares about.
Dinner parties on Frasier were always a source of farcical insanity, with the fussy planning around them almost as funny as the melodrama of the event itself. In "The Life of the Party" at the end of Season 5, Niles and Frasier uncharacteristically get inspired to throw a singles party based on the famous ones their dad used to throw. Between Marty's archaic methods of flirting and Roz trying to snag a man while pregnant, it turns into the sort of riotous fiasco we've come to love and expect.
Marty dyes his hair in an effort to look younger, which leads to no end of chaos when he starts to sweat and the dye leaks all over him, as well as Niles' furniture. Roz is about to give birth at any minute, but she's so love-crazed she barely registers it when her water breaks.
With his high school reunion looming on the horizon, Frasier begins the episode dwelling on all the misfortune that seems to befall him coinciding with his previous reunions. From bullying in high school, to never having luck with girlfriends, to being left at the altar, and finally, to being fired from KACL, he thinks if he turns up at the reunion the way everyone sees him (as a loser) will be completely validated.
As amusing as it is to see Frasier's ego knocked down a peg or two through humiliation, he suffers so much of it in this episode that it's enough to make you cringe. Every single interaction with someone leads to his utter social ruination, right up until the very last frame.
Frasier holds everyone to a "Leap Year Challenge" to celebrate leap year. Maris wants to reconcile her marriage with Niles, and Frasier tells him to hold fast and refuse to see her. When Marty tells Frasier about an old friend from the police force's birthday in Montana, Frasier tells him to take a chance and flight out. Frasier decides to change up his usual rendition of "Buttons and Bows" at a KACL fundraiser and utterly butchers it.
This episode has all the classic elements of Frasier; he delivers well-meaning advice that ultimately isn't appropriate for anyone's situation, he's forced to eat some humble pie for interfering in people's lives, and it focuses on each of the main cast members and their particular comedic talents.
The episode begins with Frasier getting home from a horrible day, just as Ronnee and Marty are headed to a cabin for the weekend. Frasier misinterprets that he's invited, and so doe Daphne and Niles. Ronnee and Marty reluctantly take the whole gaggle of Cranes to the cabin, and from there, a serious of bizarre dream sequences occur for everyone, each with a "Freudian" lesson for them about the state of their lives.
Frasier episodes have involved dream sequences before, but never as unfunny and hokey as these. The jokes aren't even funny; we're expected to laugh that in Frasier's dream, he kills Niles with a weed wacker and goes on to have a baby with Daphne, and in Niles' dream, that his baby's nursery is an alien facility where it's about to get sliced open by a rotating saw. Daphne is just fat.
In one of the funniest episodes of the series, Frasier and Niles decide to buy and revitalize one of Seattle's oldest restaurants. Their nostalgia for the place, combined with their insistence that their sense of style, knowledge of gourmet food, and refined sensibilities will make it the "toast of the town", all but ensures they ignore Martin's warning that owning a restaurant is hard work.
What begins as an opening night of breezy elegance, quickly descends into chaos as multiple failures of communication result in Frasier and Niles making one culinary misstep after another. In the span of the episode they lose their head chef, hospitalize their waitstaff, and blow up the dining room with a particularly boozy cherries jubilee.
While Laura Linney's charm as a guest star cannot be repressed, even her effervescent personality can't save this episode. It begins with her character needing to get to an important conference and Frasier, ever the valiant white knight, offering to take her to the train station. They miss her train, and the next, and finally Frasier gallantly offers to drive her the entire distance.
In a strange turn of events mimicking a bad horror movie, they take a "Detour" that results in them having to stay with a family who wouldn't look out of place in Deliverance. The creepy hillbillies even keep the body of their grandmother in the parlour (where Frasier is sleeping) and come to speak to it at various times in the night.
As Martin's 65th birthday approaches, the Crane Boys engage in their annual tradition of trying to buy his affection with expensive gifts, each trying to one up the other. Frasier thinks he can trump Niles by giving his dad a big screen TV with gigantic speakers. None of them notice that their dad has concerns about getting older and feeling useless.
Niles buys Martin's old patrol horse for him, making sure it spends its final years in a luxurious stable. Frasier concedes defeat when he realizes how happy Marty is but Niles, realizing how it must make Frasier feel, tells their dad its from both of them. Marty realizes like his old horse Agides, he still has many happy years left.
When Frasier learns that a silly prep school prank got another student expelled, he doesn't think much of it since the kid wasn't particularly nice to Frasier during his younger years. But when he learns that the one act of expulsion led his former classmate on a snowball path of criminal activity, he gets the pangs of guilt, and goes to visit him in prison.
Considered by many Frasier fans to be the worst episode of the series, it's not that hard to see why. The second half of the episode Fraiser has to fend off the man's nymphomaniac of a wife who can't stop throwing herself at Frasier, a perilous activity given that the man gets unexpectedly released from prison and wants to beat Frasier to a pulp.